Despite decades of efforts for women empowerment and gender equality, the hard reality is that real change has been agonizingly slow for the majority of women and girls in the world. Women continue to be undervalued, underpaid, undermined in terms of fewer choices, under-privileged in terms of protection of their rights, many of them facing violence at home and outside. In our discussions on women empowerment, we forgot that there is an equal counterpart – men, who have a big role to play and without whom women empowerment is not possible. Generation equality talks about how we involve men in the discourse of women empowerment to make them equal partners in every sense.
We were in the kitchen. I was cooking and my better half Vandana was just finishing doing some other household chores. I was pestering her to finish her bath as food was almost getting ready. Before leaving the kitchen Vandana remarked in jest that food should be ready and laid on the table when she comes back from bath. Despite making this remark in humour, Vandana later admitted that she felt a bit odd and almost a sense of guilt asking her husband to keep the food ready to eat. This did surprise me as in our house there are no stereotypical gender roles. Everyone who lives in the house is expected to share the house chores since they also enjoy the perks and privileges of staying at home.
I COOK, SO WHAT?
Vandana is not particularly a fan of cooking, so I have taken cooking as my responsibility in my share of home chores. Our marriage is more than fifteen years old and since creating our own small home, I have tried my best to ensure that Vandana never feels that as a woman she has to bear all the responsibilities of the home alone. She is strong, well-educated and her confidence has further grown due to the kind of beliefs we have created in our home, but despite my best efforts, I know that she is still not completely free from these mental cobwebs, the kind of role stereotypes that society has created and the kind of stature women have mostly been relegated to. I also know that many of our acquaintances find it surprising and at times utterly unacceptable that she does not cook, and her husband cooks instead. Many of them indirectly remind her that she is in some way failing in her duty by not doing what she is ‘supposed’ to do. This just goes on to show how entrenched these perceptions and beliefs are that even Vandana is affected at times and that explains her feeling that way.
NEED FOR AN ATTITUDINAL SHIFT
In most parts of the world, cooking is still perceived to be the job of the women. Most men still don’t think that home chores are their business as well and hence do not participate. They publicly claim that they are in fact very ‘lucky’’ that their wives do all the chores at home and they do not have to get their hands ‘dirty’. Few others do participate in some way however use the word ‘help’ when they do home chores. How does doing home chore fall in the territory of help? These are all representative of the deep-rooted attitudinal issues that still plague the majority population. It is not surprising is that many women also accept such behaviours as an accepted norm as they have been brought up with similar belief systems. Making men and women, especially men, realize that home chores are to be shared by everyone living under the roof and is everyone’s responsibility needs an attitudinal shift.
Such attitudinal shifts are not only required in homes, but in workplaces and society at large. Since the historic Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995 (Beijing Platform for Action), that is considered as the most visionary agenda for the empowerment of women and girls, everywhere we have come a long way and the world has increasingly started to realize that gender equality is not without the participation of both men and women.
GENERATION EQUALITY IS ABOUT INVOLVING MEN IN THE DISCOURSE OF WOMEN EMPOWERMENT
Supriti Chakraborty is a senior professional who has worked for the last 20 years on women empowerment, gender equality, child welfare, and rights, worked in the relight areas, with drug addicts, high-risk groups, MSMs, vulnerable children. Supriti touches upon a very important change occurring the world over. Generation equality is rapidly replacing gender equality in upholding and protecting women’s rights and issues. Despite decades of efforts for women empowerment and gender equality, the hard reality is that real change has been agonizingly slow for the majority of women and girls in the world. There is not a single nation in the world that can claim to have achieved gender equality. Numerous obstacles and roadblocks remain primarily with respect to law and culture. Hence, women continue to be undervalued, underpaid, undermined in terms of fewer choices, under-privileged in terms of protection of their rights, many of them facing violence at home and outside.
She goes on to elaborate ‘women empowerment is an easy term to speak nowadays, but when you explore it you realize how broad this term is and how difficult it is to bring about real change. It is not about empowering women in one aspect or only about creating opportunities when they can participate or where they can share their thoughts. It is about changing existing social and cultural norms, patriarchy, and a whole lot of factors that determine women empowerment in the truest sense.’
In the past, Supriti has worked with The William J. Clinton Foundation. During her stint with UNICEF she work on policymaking on health and HIV issues. When she worked with UNDP, her focus was on women empowerment from the perspective of skill development. Presently she works with the government of Tripura, a north-eastern state of India, helping the state government in implementing skill development programs for women and also assist in strategy building.
Supriti highlights further – ‘In our discussions on women empowerment, we forgot that there is an equal counterpart – men, who have a big role to play and without whom women empowerment is not possible. Generation equality talks about how we involve men in the discourse of women empowerment to make them equal partners in every sense.’
Supriti is right when she points out to the current pandemic induced lockdown situation and questions how gender roles are being interpreted and shared. With the whole family confined in the house, the home has become an action ground for all activities, be it regular homes chores, kids, their schooling, work, everything. Are men really breaking gender roles stereotypes and sharing the work with the lady of the house?
I agree with Supriti when she says ‘We have to gradually make men and even women realize that they are equal partners at home, at work and in the society. Only then we stand a chance where the future generations would start thinking, feeling and behaving differently.’
GENERATION EQUALITY CAN BREAK SOCIAL STEREOTYPES
The participation of women in the labour workforce is still very low in terms of the global average. One of the major reasons for such low participation is poor levels of skill development. Supriti works in this particular area, facilitating and managing skill development of women especially from non-privileged backgrounds with little formal education. But it is not easy to convince women to choose varied skill development opportunities. Most women seek tailoring skills that are influenced by the gender stereotypes that society has created for women and consequently women have chosen as something that they can do while staying back home. Supriti adds – ‘Most women who come to us think that if they learn tailoring or beautician skills, they can later do it from the confines of their home or by opening a small tailoring shop or a parlour in a section of their house. Practically maybe it makes sense, but the problem lies in them not thinking beyond it. She has been acclimatized in the society in a way that she thinks she can only challenge herself to that extent and not beyond the boundaries of the home. I have come across women who want to learn mobile repairing skills for instance, but they are discouraged by the fact that she may not find enough customers as most people would not believe a woman to be expert in getting back their mobile handsets back to health.’
There are plenty of such areas where women hesitate to venture due to social stereotypes and not finding enough support from their families and husbands after their marriage. There is good demand for female security personnel, yet this skill area attracts mostly men.
Supriti highlights the importance of counseling in skill development that is one of the mainstays of women empowerment. She says, ‘It is important to know the aspirations of women, identify their strengths, make them realize what they are capable of, and help them choose a skill that not only creates employment for them, but also leads to an attitudinal shift and empowers them in the truest sense.’
Women empowerment is not only economic empowerment, but improvement in the overall quality of life of women at home, in workplaces and in the society at large. The indicators of women’s development have not drastically improved in the past decades – crimes against women still remain high, women are still economically, socially, physically and psychologically vulnerable by and large.
‘For ensuring women empowerment and gender equality bringing men for dialogue on the same table is important to ensure they appreciate the importance of sharing and becoming equal partners in every sense; to make sure they do not feel intimidated when women become more and more empowered, and to ensure that women think differently themselves and both raise next generation of boys and girls who think and behave equally. That is the essence of generation equality’, Supriti signs off.